Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway

Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway
by Saaru Lindestokke                

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Either for entering natural history competitions that require it, or simply for more accurate titles, if you've taken a great shot of an animal or plant, how do you go about identifying what the thing in your photograph actually is?

Update: Some helpful answers already, but almost all North America based - it'd be great to have some global and/or European-based resources.

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I've played around with bird and insect photography and have found that (at least in north america), there are a few good sites for this:

  • - North American bird database that you can filter down and visually compare the subject to drawings and/or photos.
  • - This one handles identification of bugs from the US and Canada, optionally by uploading an image, which will be classified by users of the site.
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Very nice question. There are some services that do "image search" by example, they can be of help.

For example I downloaded Wikipedia photo of "Empis livida" and used image search to find similar images. This returns a list of images, some of them including the name in Latin. I am not sure how tineye image search is useful but AFAIK Google still does not have image search by example.

Empis livida

Search result

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Seems TinEye works based on exact and modified images, rather than similar creatures, but that's still pretty cool. – Peter Boughton Sep 14 '10 at 13:16
TinEye tries to search this image, not some image looking like it or containing the same stuff, so if you took a picture of a plant yourself, tineye will be of no use (unless you upload it, someone else steals it, writes the latin names to the image and you find the stolen image with the latin names). – Sam Sep 14 '10 at 14:49

There are books to identify plants and animals like the "National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America".

Search on Amazon for "bird identification" or "plant identification" to find some (I got no clue which ones are good, as it depends on the area where you took the picture).

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In France you always can ask to a pharmacist.

If you want to learn and/or compare, some cities with big universities have botanical gardens open to the public where most of the plants are labeled with their common and latin names. Some gardens exhibit local plants, others have rich collections of overseas flora.

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+1 for local botanical gardens. Don't limit yourself to universities though. Here in California, there are some great Botanical gardens such as Huntington Library, Balboa Park, etc... – BillN Sep 15 '10 at 21:28
@BillN - In France most botanical gardens have been initiated in XVIII or XIX century by explorers/researchers with university support. That is why I mention it. But any botanical garden is OK of course. – mouviciel Sep 16 '10 at 8:19

There is no one single answer, and it depends on how easy the organism is to distinguish.

For plants, you're best off if you have shots of the flower (count # of petals!) + leaves (alternate or opposite leaf pattern is important) and note where you take it i.e. which state and what habitat. Some plants are easy to ID, others have obscure technical characteristics, like ridges on seeds, or stem hair length. Do a search for native plant societies in your area -- many of them are starting to put up websites of local plant species.

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